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Page last updated at 14:24 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Bashir war crimes bid challenged

President Omar al-Bashir
President Omar al-Bashir has always denied backing Darfur militias

Two Sudanese groups have formally requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) not to issue an arrest for President Omar al-Bashir.

He is accused of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict in Darfur.

Experts warn that the motion filed could lead to a delay in the judges' decision on whether to issue a warrant.

The BBC's Amber Henshaw in Khartoum says tension is mounting in Sudan ahead of the ruling, expected in a few weeks.

The Sudanese government has always refused to deal with the ICC.

But some see the two groups - the Sudan Workers Trade Unions Federation and the recently-formed Sudan International Defence Group - as government proxies.

On Wednesday, veteran Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi was arrested after saying President Bashir should hand himself in to face the ICC charges.

His family say he is being held in solitary confinement and they fear for his safety.

Sudan map

Last weekend, the head of Sudan's intelligence agency warned that foreigners in Sudan could be attacked if the arrest warrant was issued.

The application says that pursuing the case could bring great danger to the region, particularly to Darfur and Sudan where it would have "grave implications" for peace and could lead to a deterioration of the situation across the country.

Sudan has long made similar arguments. It has been lobbying at the UN for the Security Council to delay the investigation.

The African Union and Arab League back Sudan's argument.

The motion also criticises the ICC chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, for his handling of the case.

The two groups claim they have wide public support, including a petition with more than a million names as well as backing from leaders of Darfur's Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups - seen as the main victims of the conflict.

But our correspondent says many Darfuris believe that an arrest warrant should be issued for President Bashir, who is accused on 10 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for alleged atrocities committed in Darfur.

The UN says that some 300,000 people have died during the six-year Darfur conflict and more than two million forced from their homes.

Sudan has always denied backing the Arab Janjaweed militias accused of the worst atrocities.

It says the scale of the suffering has been exaggerated for political reasons by its enemies in the West.



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